Hedda Hopper (May 2, 1885 – February 1, 1966) was an American actress and gossip columnist, whose long-running feud with friend turned arch-rival Louella Parsons became at least as notorious as many of Hopper's columns.
Her siblings included Dora Furry (born March 1880); Sherman Furry (born June 1882); Cameron Furry (born September 1887); Edgar Furry (April 20, 1889-November 1975); Frank M. Furry (born August 1891); and Margaret Furry (born July 1897).
The family moved to nearby Altoona when Elda was three. Her father was a butcher who owned a shop. She eventually ran away to New York and began her career in the chorus on the Broadway stage. Hopper was not successful in this venture, even getting the axe by the renowned Shubert Brothers. Florenz Ziegfeld called the aspiring starlet a "clumsy cow" and brushed off her pleas for a slot in the Follies. After a few years, she joined the theatre company of matinee idol DeWolf Hopper, whom she called "Wolfie."
In her words, "Dancing came easy to me. And in singing, what my voice lacked in quality it made up for in volume." Thus, she remained in the chorus and they toured the country from one end to the other.
While in the Hopper company, she realized that chorus and understudy jobs were not acting. She wanted to act, and she knew she would have to prove herself before she could hope to get anywhere in the theatre. Hearing that Edgar Selwyn was casting his play The Country Boy for a road tour, she went to his office and talked him into letting her audition for the lead. She was given the role and the show toured for thirty-five weeks through forty-eight states.
On May 8 1913, she married DeWolf Hopper in New Jersey. They had one child, the actor William Hopper, best known for playing Paul Drake in the Perry Mason series. They were divorced on January 20 1924.
Elda Hopper paid a numerologist $10 to tell her what name she should use, and the answer was Hedda.
As her movie career waned in the mid-1930s, Hopper looked for other sources of income. In 1937, she was offered the chance of a lifetime and embarked on a career doing something she was quite adept at: gossip. Her gossip column called "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" debuted in the Los Angeles Times on February 14, 1938.
After years of struggling as an actress, she had finally found her niche. She christened the home she purchased in Beverly Hills "The House That Fear Built." She then had a notorious feud with the long-established Louella Parsons, who had been friendly to her in print and to whom she had sometimes passed information. Hopper and Parsons became arch-rivals competing fiercely, and often nastily, for the title "Queen of Hollywood", although those who knew both declared that Hopper was the more sadistic, surprising given Hopper's Quaker background.
ZaSu Pitts compared Hopper to "a ferret", and pointed out that she should not have been surprised her (Hedda's) own movie career did not pan out. Joan Fontaine called Hedda a "skunk" and even sent her one on Valentine's Day.
Known for her gossipy comments and movie star interviews, Hopper debuted as host of her own radio program, The Hedda Hopper Show, November 6, 1939. It was sponsored by Sunkist on CBS three times a week for fifteen minutes.
Hopper moved back to CBS October 5, 1946, with a once a week, fifteen minute program titled This Is Hollywood, which was sponsored by Procter & Gamble. It ran until June 28, 1947. The last season on the air had a change to thirty minutes and also changed to NBC.
From October 14, 1950 to November 11, 1950 on Saturdays, then from November 19, 1950 to May 20, 1951 on Sundays, she was heard hosting a program that contained music, talk, and dramatized excerpts from movies with a variety of the biggest names in the industry. She also did a television spot.
She was noted for her hats, considered her trademark, mostly because of her unusual taste for large, flamboyant ones. She was known for hobnobbing with the biggest names in the industry, for getting a "scoop" before almost anyone else most of the time, and for being vicious in dealing with those who displeased her, whether intentionally or not. The columnist J.J. Hunsecker, played by Burt Lancaster in the film Sweet Smell of Success, is said to have been inspired partly by Hopper.
Hopper courted controversy as well for "naming names" of suspected or alleged Communists during the Hollywood Blacklist. Her frequent attacks against Charlie Chaplin in the 1940s for his leftist politics and love life contributed to his departure from America in 1952.
After publishing a blind item on Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's relationship, Tracy confronted her at Ciro's and kicked her in the behind. A similar incident occurred when Hopper leaked info about the extramarital affair between Joseph Cotten and Deanna Durbin.
She tried to "out" Cary Grant and Randolph Scott as gay lovers, but Grant was too big a star even for her to touch. She also spread the gossip that Michael Wilding and Stewart Granger had been intimate.
Hopper also had several acting roles during the latter part of her career, including brief cameo appearances as herself in the movie Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Patsy (1964), as well as episodes of I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies.
On January 10, 1960, a TV special, Hedda Hopper's Hollywood, aired on NBC. Hosted by Hopper, guest interviews included an extremely eclectic mix of then-current and former stars: Lucille Ball (a longtime friend of Hopper), Francis X. Bushman, Liza Minnelli, John Cassavetes, Robert Cummings, Marion Davies (her last public appearance), Walt Disney, Janet Gaynor, Bob Hope, Hope Lange, Anthony Perkins, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, and Gloria Swanson.
Her autobiography, From Under My Hat, was published in 1952 by Doubleday & Company. It was followed with The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963), also published by Doubleday.
Hopper remained active as a writer until her death, producing six daily columns and a Sunday column for the Chicago Tribune syndicate, as well as writing countless articles for celebrity magazines such as Photoplay.
She died of double pneumonia at the age of 80 in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood. She is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona, Pennsylvania.